In 2010 the US government implemented legislation in December 2013 requiring Intensive English Programs accreditation to be completed by a recognized body. As a result, only accredited IEP programs can enroll international students and issue the documents they need to apply for and obtain an F-1 student visas. Accreditation proponents argue the law has been beneficial by making IEPs comply with international standards. ESL degrees have also become more valuable, as accreditors now check that teaching and leadership positions are taken by qualified instructors. Having an IEP accredited is not an easy task, however, and going through the process does not guarantee success.
The two major accreditor agencies concerning intensive English programs in the US are the CEA (Commission on English Language Program Accreditation), specialized on IEPs, and the ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training), which deals with a wide range of institutions, including career and vocational schools. Despite their different timelines and benchmarking points, being accredited with these organizations takes a minimum of three years and costs around ten thousand dollars plus annual sustaining fees. Both review a wide range of operational areas and aspects, covering management, instructional programs, services and assessment.
For smaller, privately-owned schools the accreditation process is very challenging, and current regulations require new schools to be fully operational for a certain time before their accreditation process begins, making it next to impossible to start a school.
For bigger operators, the best way to enter the US language market is probably to buy an already accredited school, thus reducing the costs and risk of starting operations. Although this is out of the budget of many smaller operators, it is believed that this was a contributing factor in the recent acquisitions of several US language centers by UK- and Australia-based education groups.
In the end, though, for students the consequence is clear: the law has been successful in raising the overall quality of IEPs across the nation, meaning that students can have confidence when selecting a school.